HC issues notice to Centre over media firms' plea against IT rules

The plea was filed by DNPA comprising digital arms of 13 key media companies.

New Delhi: The Madras high court has issued a notice to Centre over a plea filed by the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) against the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021.

This petition challenged the constitutionality of the Rules and alleged that it violates the fundamental right of equality (Article 14), freedom of speech and expression (Article 19(1)(a), and the right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business (Article 19 (1) (g)). The association sought a stay on Rules 12, 14, and 16 of the IT Rules 2021.

Formed in 2018, DNPA is an organisation comprising of the digital arms of leading media companies of the country, including the ABP Network, Amar Ujala, Dainik Bhaskar Corp, Express Network, HT Digital Streams, IE Online Media Services, NDTV Convergence, Lokmat Media, Jagran Prakashan, TV Today Network, The Malayala Manorama, Times Internet Limited, and Ushodaya Enterprises. 

According to DNPA, the online news portals of traditional media houses, which run newspapers and TV channels, do not come within the purview of IT Rules.  "While 'newspaper' is not governed by the IT Rules 2021, 'publisher of news and current affairs content' is governed by Part three of the IT Rules 2021. This implies that some of the members of DNPA association which are primarily newspaper publishers would not be governed by the IT Rules 2021 if they only published newspapers. But by making available, inter alia, the same content on a digital platform, they ought to be governed by the IT Rules 2021. Therefore, the IT Rules 2021 have created a distinction that is vague and arbitrary..." stated the plea, Live Law reported.

The plea also contended that there are several regulations in place already for traditional and legacy media outlets in print and broadcasting, which have been operating before the advent of the internet and digital media. The petition filed by DNPA and journalist Mukund Padmanabhan was tagged along with the petition filed by Carnatic singer TM Krishna, which also claimed that the IT Rules 2021 were in violation of the Right to Privacy.  

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 that into effect on 26 May recommend a three-tier mechanism for the regulation of all online media. Under the rules, the digital publishers are required to take urgent steps for appointing a grievance officer, if not done, and place all relevant details in the public domain. "They also need to constitute self-regulatory bodies through mutual consultation so that the grievances are addressed at the level of publishers or the self-regulating bodies themselves," according to the ministry.

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